Trafficking in Women and Children

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The Commonwealth Secretariat has defined TRAFFICKING as ‘all acts involved in capture and acquisition of persons for trade and transport with the intent to sell, exchange or use for any illegal purposes’. But the International Organization for Immigration (IOM) offered a more useful definition: women are ‘trafficked’ when they pay a ‘facilitator’ to cross a border voluntarily, but illegally.

Governments, on the other hand, portray trafficked women as voluntary, illegal economic migrants deserving of punishment. The stories that trafficked women tell indicate, however, that these women are neither mere passive victims nor traditional ‘economic migrants’. Trafficked women are perhaps best described as active labour migrants who become victims in the process. One of the problems is that, despite SAARC governments’ talk about regional economic cooperation issues, such as the movement of goods through freer trade, almost no one is talking about the movement of people within the region.

Undocumented immigrants in Pakistan are a case of human misery and the Bangladeshis and Burmese, in particular, suffer the most. They remain scared of the authorities, and rightfully so. They are given far lower waged jobs and are often susceptible to moral, social and other crimes due to their extremely inferior status in Pakistan. Their children are singled out as targets of child labour and child abuse. They inhibit slums (paras) that have no civic amenities at all.

The single most significant cause of trafficking within South Asia is that countries have failed to negotiate any bilateral agreements for the movement of a limited number of economic migrants. If a Bangladeshi woman wants to migrate abroad to improve her life, she is faced with no alternative but to travel illegally. Illegal immigration agents serve as her only source of information and access to this travel. South and Southeast Asian governments have shown a remarkable reluctance to recognizing the social, economical and political dimensions of the problem. Problems and procedures therefore, do not address the socio-economic realities of the situation of illegal migrants and victims of trafficking. The lack of will among the governments for any level of bilateral and regional discussion is evident and remains a significant barrier to effective change.

According to a report published by UNICEF and SAARC, on an average 4,500 women and children from Bangladesh are smuggled to Pakistan alone in one year. A national daily giving this reference has also mentioned that over half a million foreign women, including Bangladeshis, are working as prostitutes in India. Most of these women are victims of trafficking. Another daily has stated that the traffickers are using the route through India and Pakistan as their route to U.A.E.

Every month 120 to 150 Bangladeshi women are trafficked into Pakistan and sold to brothels or individuals to be used as prostitutes. During the last ten years, an estimated 200,000 women have been trafficked. The number of women and children sold into sexual slavery and prostitution has reached global proportions. There have been reports of Bangladeshi women trafficked to countries of the Middle East.

Since approximately two third of the Rohingya Muslim population of Burma are in self-exile in an attempt to flee the persecution of the Burmese government, 400,000 are in India, 700,000 are in Bangladesh and nearly 400,000 are in Pakistan. Most of them are believed to have been trafficked. The majority of this population lives in Korangi, Musa Colony, Landhi and other slums of Karachi.

Similarly, every year thousands of Nepalese women and young girls are trafficked into India and sold into prostitution. Reports reveal that over 150,000 Nepalese women and 19,000 children have already been kidnapped, lured, trafficked and sold into different cities of India.

The trade concern is, however, run by some influential pimps who are assisted by some smaller pimps. These smaller pimps are noticed as dealers. The dealers bring women into Pakistan giving them the identity of their sisters and wives.

The desire for a better living and a high salary entice these women to leave their own land and travel to an unknown destiny. This can be noticed as an undue advantage availed by the traffickers.

The dealers usually follow the railway route. They start from Bangladesh via Meenapur to reach Calcutta. From there they travel to Delhi and then to Amritsar and later on to Pakistan walking for three days and nights. The internal paper work is done by their correspondence in Pakistan. By crossing the border these women become Pakistani nationals overnight. Though they are very much Bangladeshi by appearance but having the illegal papers they claim themselves as Pakistanis.  This gang is so institutionalized that authorities have a hard time finding or arresting them on charges of forge documents.

Girls that are trafficked are generally picked in accordance with the demands. The girls are hardly 20 years old. Price tags vary on education, age, beauty and even family background. It varies from Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 100,000. High government functionaries from the Gulf region regularly visit Karachi just to purchase girls. Even for a highly attractive girl these men pay up to Rs. 165,000.

A complete process is to be followed to seal the entry points of Pakistan. The ignorance of the immigration department is partly to be blamed. The Government of Pakistan has made attempts to control the influx of refugees. But the problem is due to the malpractice of law. Though agencies are there to check the influx, it is the duty of the above ministry to check illegal entries.

The large number of illegal people is putting an effect on Pakistan’s economy. According to international law, these refugees are to be deported back. But for a developing country like Pakistan it is hard to bear the expenses of deporting.

The Pakistani government has made numerous vacuous commitments to address the issue on various fronts. The Federal government urged the Sindh provincial government to take action against the criminals involved in this trade. In 1991, the interior minister of the Pakistani government promised to take the matter to the Indian government to ensure that tight security measures would be taken to prevent illegal entries. However, none of these commitments have been realized. In fact, the trade has reached alarming proportion. The police report figures indicate an increase of approximately 800,000 undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants from 1989, which translates into 400% increase. The administration and police are in league with the smugglers, ensuring virtual immunity for the latter and providing no protection to the unfortunate women and children. On the other hand the government, claiming a lack of resources, is unwilling to address the issue for fear of unearthing the larger systematic problems related to illegal trafficking and exploitation.

Right now in Pakistan we have (the most prominent) Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA), which was formed in 1989, which provides free legal aid for those who cannot afford the expenses of litigation. They have been very active regarding the different cases of trafficking. Apart from them there are many other such legal firms (on smaller scales) all over Pakistan such as Society for Human Rights and Prisoner Aids, Pakistan Women Lawyers Association etc. Then we have Edhi Centers all over Pakistan that provides shelter to such society stricken women and children.

In December 1997, LHRLA and UNESCO, in which members of all the SAARC countries were present, held a regional conference on trafficking in women and children in South Asia in Karachi.  The issue was very seriously discussed and concluded with the formation of a pragmatic solution, which could at least start of with getting some control on the increase of flesh trade because repatriation is next to impossible.

No matter what happens, no organization can bring about a change in the problems that exist in a society till the government is willing to recognize and do something about it. And so it happens that statistics on trafficking in women and children are increasing by the day as every time an opportunity is missed to confront the governments of the South Asian countries on the issue of trafficking in women and children by not discussing it in the SAARC Summit Conference.

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